In a time when leaving the house is considered a questionable decision and the safest place you can travel to is from your bathroom to your bedroom, it's never been more important to push your imagination into overdrive. Whilst your reality may be limited, there is absolutely no place your imagination cannot go.
My baby sister Stefanie, also a creative and avid traveller, is currently in the UK in self-isolation and we've spent many hours over the phone discussing her trip to Morocco in January (pre-Coronavirus). We featured Melissa Norris' experience in Morocco late last year, and it struck me how different but at times reminiscent their accounts were. Mel captured the heartbeat of Marrakech; the unseen daily lives of the inhabitants and secret pathways of the city. Stefanie captured the soul of Morocco; the artisan nooks and book-worthy interactions with the cities inhabitants. I couldn't recommend reading their accounts side by side more highly!
With a love of collage and a lot of time up her sleeve currently, Stefanie has walked us through her journey through with a series of collages inspired by her trip!
What surprised you about Morocco considering all previous information / knowledge you had of it?
I didn’t have any previous knowledge; I wanted a holiday and when Emily suggested Morocco I dived into research. Because research can bring up the horror stories, especially when you’re 3 women travelling, I suppose I didn’t expect to feel at home as much as I did in a country that is extremely male-dominated. The three of us were treated like family and the level of hospitality we experienced, despite a language barrier, was unprecedented. And it wasn’t financially motivated, there was just a genuine wish for us to have an incredible time in their country and homes. Daily interactions were always entertaining, and for the most part respectful; I’ve never had more fun haggling over a fake Dior t-shirt (don’t worry, it didn’t come home with me)
But on that note, the generosity and gratitude within Moroccan culture has stuck with me. One of our highlights was a four hour hike with Mohammed (an employee at our accomodation Auberge Atlas Dades) who pulled us through the canyons (we were on our stomachs wriggling under rocks), up to the monkey fingers, picked fresh oregano and thyme for us to smell, and who laughed at our obsession with baby goats and, my favourite, the donkey. He introduced us to a Nomad couple living in a mountain cave, brewed fresh tea on an expertly built fire, before we descended back into town. And we were not able to communicate more than 10 words together but still shared the joy for what we were experiencing and seeing.
You went to Morocco on a tight budget and yet some of the accommodation looked stunning! Where would you recommend and what experiences are worth splurging on?
I recommend Maison d'hotes Irocha, Tisseldeï, one of my favourite stopovers on the drive to Marrakesh from Merzouga. And of course, Riad 191 in Marrakesh where handsome Abdul and the ever smiling Ismail will take amazing care of you. When my budget extends, Riad Mena & Beyond, El Fenn and Berber Lodge are on my list.
This time, we splurged on our desert experience; If you’re going to Merzouga, book Madu Luxury Camp. If you're looking at the other side of Morocco, Scarabeo Camp was our top option.The last thing you want to be doing in the Saharan Desert is popping out a stove and slaving over dinner. And I cannot express the joy of sleeping on a soft mattress (they’re few and far to come by), having just had a hot shower in a heated room when outside is negative degrees. And then waking up to sunrise with freshly cooked breads and eggs and just squeezed orange juice. `
You hired a car to get around Morocco; tell me about the experience of driving.
We all dislike tours and prefer our freedom so hiring a car was our only option. One of my favourite unplanned stopovers was what was affectionately nicknamed the ‘Crap Markets’ which bustled with an incredible range of fresh fruit, vegetables and the most random assortment of China’s finest plastic goods…None of us would be able to tell you what location we were in or what the market was (Google Maps has a habit of checking in and out at inconvenient times), but we all came out with something that we probably didn’t need but wanted as a token of our trip.
Also side note: despite being told that the no.1 rule was not to fill the car with diesel we did exactly that - although, once the petrol station assistant realised our mistake, we were assisted by 8 mechanics and strangers who came to check out what was going on in the next hour. Speaking a mixture of French, Italian, Spanish, Arabic and English to cover the basics, the men kindly drained and refilled our car with unleaded before taking it for a drive to check everything was working. They didn’t charge us for more than the petrol, and the generosity we experienced that day warms my heart.
How would you describe Morocco in terms of colours, textures, sounds & smells?
I was drawn to the combination of soft pinks, eclectic blues, burnt oranges, deep reds and fresh vibrant greenery that aesthetically really really works. I mean, driving through rural landscapes we would have L.A palm tree scenes on the right side and apocalyptic black mountains on the left. Give it an hour and your viewing rich orange Saharan Desert and green snowy mountains in your rearview mirror. Drive another four hours, you're in a pink Mars with white cherry blossoms dotted all over the place. The vast range and tonal combinations; raw tan leather with rattan furniture, warm linens and apricot walls. I've definitely been rethinking my own interior space which until now, has been as clean, minimal and considered as possible.
I loved the raw textures best - pottery not completed, shoddy brickwork, woven hats with ends sticking out of them. But most of all, I liked the pace of life. Food is prepared from scratch so you have time to listen to the bustle, birds or the dead silence. And then you're really hit by the smell of freshly prepared food be it tagine, couscous, slow-roasted meat or date cake. All of it soaking in juices and deliciousness.
I think to put it succinctly; Morocco is aesthetically maximal whilst considered; I mean, they say Yves Saint Laurent began to design in colour after moving to Morocco..
Any artisan highlights?
LRNCE, a Marrakesh based lifestyle brand focusing on interior decoration and accessories, Malakut, for minimalist ceramics + Chabi Chic, a Moroccan brand offering a modern, design-led collection of tableware, cooking utensils and other household items of outstanding quality.
What wisdom would you pass on to anyone hoping to visit Morocco?
Please don’t be the idiot wearing immodest clothing; it’s not okay to bare your arms and the level of disrespect I saw from other tourists boiled my blood. Additionally, if there is an ATM, stock up on cash - no-one takes card and ATM’s don’t exist between major cities. We learned this the hard way when we had to drive an extra hour back to where we had just come from so we could pay for our dinner that night.
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